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15

Paradise Valley lies south of Las Vegas and cast of the Strip. It has been colonized by well-to-do casino personnel and such show-business stars as chose to live in Vegas through the off months, when they are not on the road. A spacious area with mammoth homes and ready access to four separate country clubs, the neighborhood enjoys a reputation for conspicuous consumption, and the residents take pride in their affluence. In the fifties they elected old Gus Greenbaum mayor of Paradise, deciding that his quasi-ownership of the flamboyant Riviera Hotel and Casino necessarily outfitted him for public office. Everyone professed surprise when Gus, a one-time murderer and closet junkie, ran afoul of mafiosi who were really putting strings down at the Riviera. He was on vacation at the family home in Arizona when somebody hacked his head off with a butcher knife and then went on to practice further surgical techniques upon Mrs. Greenbaum in the next room, taking time to spread out plastic tarps beneath each body prior to cutting. And the folks back home in Paradise could well appreciate the hit team's grim fastidiousness. No maid could ever clean those twenty pints of blood out of a Persian carpet.

And Paradise had made almost a cult of looking clean, of putting up appearances and hiding in the shadows. Driving down the tree-lined streets and looking at palatial homes in back of finely manicured lawns, no casual tourist would suspect which houses had been built with skimmed casino money, cash from tax frauds and insurance swindles.

If your next-door neighbor was in league with mobsters, if he was a practicing arsonist who torched his own concerns for profit, well... the world was dog-eat-dog, and every businessman had overhead to meet. As long as you could settle out of court with IRS or dodge the audits altogether, there was no real reason for concern.

And if you took the fall there would be someone waiting for the house, with ready cash in hand.

Someone like Seiji Kuwahara, the businessman from Tokyo who specialized in restaurants — and other things. His neighbors knew him vaguely, did not seek acquaintance with him on a daily basis, but if asked, they would assure investigators that there could be nothing wrong with Mr. Kuwahara. How could any criminal keep such nice flower gardens, after all? Mack Bolan smelled the flowers — and the stench of death that drowned their sweet fragrance like the reek of fresh-laid fertilizer. Crouching in the darkness, sweeping Seiji Kuwahara's desert palace with his night eyes, the Executioner knew that he was looking at a dragon's lair. The residential neighborhood had not been Bolan's first choice for a battlefield, but it was preferable to the Lotus Garden, down on Paradise, where stray fire might encounter any one of several hundred tourists still abroad and seeking action.

Here, at least, the residents were either still out for the evening, or else settled safely in behind their triple locks and burglar bars.

It was the best that he could do, right, and the place would simply have to serve his purposes.

He had come dressed for combat, decked out in the nightsuit that clung to him like a second skin, its hidden pockets filled with slim stiletto, strangling gear, the grim accoutrements of silent death.

The silenced Beretta 93-R hung beneath his left arm in its shoulder harness, and Big Thunder, the .44 AutoMag, occupied its usual place on his right hip, hung on military webbing. Nylon pouches circling his waist held extra magazines for both the handguns, prearranged to let him find them by their feel alone amid the smoke and dust of battle. Slung across his back was a Mini-Uzi submachine gun, fully loaded. Inches shorter than its parent weapon, the little stuttergun had not surrendered any of its manbreaking firepower when it was miniaturized. Roughly the size of an Ingram MAC-10 with its side-folding stock, the little Uzi could lay down its parabellum manglers at a cyclic rate of 1,200 rounds per minute-a cataclysmic outpouring that Bolan had himself refined to a more manageable 750 rpm.

Head weapon for the evening was a recent Bolan favorite, the XM-18 semiautomatic projectile launcher. Built on the revolver principle, the XM-18 sported a 12-shot rotary magazine.

Constructed out of coated steel and durable cast aluminum to cut the weight, it was a one-man piece of field artillery, and Bolan could unload its twelve big chambers in the space of half as many seconds when the heat was on. The rifled bore belonging to the 40mm model made hits possible out to the weapon's maximum effective range of 150 yards, and with a steady hand, the cannon could work miracles against the opposition.

Double belts of premixed rounds encircled Bolan's chest, combining high-explosive rounds with gas and smoke, fl6chette and shot — enough to give an army pause, damn right.

Which was exactly what the soldier meant to do.

Fifteen minutes had passed since Bolan spoke with Tommy Anders, and the mental clock was ticking off the numbers. The pace was picking up now, the Las Vegas caldron coming to a boil around him.

Precision timing was the key if Bolan did not mean to wind up as a piece of well-done meat left floating in the stew pot. He was counting on Spinoza to dispatch an army straight for Kuwahara's, armed for war. The mafioso might be having trouble with his men, collecting all the arms he needed for the raid... but even so they should be on the scene at any moment now.

Inside the walls he could pick out a moving human figure here and there, primarily keeping to the shadows and avoiding the noonday glare of strategically positioned floodlights. It was far too late for gardeners, and from the glimpse that Bolan got on one occasion as his target inadvertently stepped into light, the slender men in tailored business suits had never done a day of spadework in their lives. Unless, perhaps, they had been planting bodies in the desert lately. Bolan counted half a dozen of them behind the low retaining wall, and knew there would be more where those came from. A man like Kuwahara, taking on the Mafia by choice, would not sleep well at night without an army at his beck and call. The question for Mack Bolan now revolved around how many men were in there, and how many guns they had at their disposal. He had come prepared to buck the odds, and yet...

A stab of light in his peripheral vision claimed the Executioner's attention. He half turned, just in time to see the tag end of a four-car caravan as it negotiated the right-hand turn and fell back into line with the procession rolling down the avenue toward Kuwahara's mansion. Four black Lincolns, six-door models with jump seats down that would accommodate from twenty-four to thirty gunners, depending on how tightly they were packed in there.

An army, right.

And from the way they cut their lights a half block down, approaching like a ghostly funeral cortege with only street lamps left to guide them on, they had not come in peace.

A pair of Kuwahara's men materialized from out of nowhere just inside the decorative wrought-iron gates. They were watching as the line of limousines approached now, reaching underneath their tailored jackets, coming out again with hardware.

Bolan used the opportunity to take the low retaining wall in one smooth motion, landing in a combat crouch among the occupant's prizewinning roses.

He moved away from there, preferring empty shadows and the smell of new-mown grass to the funeral-parlor perfume of the flower garden. He was settling into other cover, downrange, when the leader of the limo caravan decided he had had enough of caution. Standing on his Lincoln's accelerator, the wheelman cut hard left and brought his tank squealing up the short driveway from street to gates, rear tires smoking as they ate the pavement.

Kuwahara's guards each fired a futile round or two in the direction of the juggernaut, then leaped away to either side as the Detroit torpedo met the gates, plowing on through to the accompaniment of grinding, screeching steel.

A clap of gunfire drowned the sound of falling numbers in his head, and Bolan moved out, traveling on instinct now. From here on in, reconnaissance was next to worthless, planning almost pointless.

There were too damn many wild cards in the game, and any combination of them came out to the dead man's hand.

The soldier took a firm grip on the XM-18, leaving cover in a rush. He knew only one strategy for playing when the stakes were life and death. You bet the limit.


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